How do I love me? Let me count the ways.

Here it is again February 14th, the day dedicated to love, when romance is revered as the ultimate expression of true love. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem dedicated to her husband “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Such beautiful words and heartfelt sentiments expressed towards another person. But how often do we express and demonstrate love to ourselves? Loving another person gives us a warm glow, wonderful feelings and diverts us sometimes from the boredom and monotony of day to day life, we can distract ourselves with endless romantic and exciting thoughts, especially in the beginning. We may believe in the ‘Hollywood’ ideal that our love interest ‘completes’ us. It sometimes feels as if our level of self esteem depends on who has deemed us worthy of their love. It can feel like a very unsafe and vulnerable place to be, with extreme highs, and devastating lows, we place our fragile hearts in the hands of others and in many cases, hope for the best. Of course, there are no guarantees in life, risk is a given and at some point we all get hurt. But, unless we build a solid foundation of self-love, then we may suffer more than is necessary, feel lost and very vulnerable indeed.

It is almost second nature to demonstrate our love to another person, we will go out of our way to help, buy gifts, offer affection, be an attentive and dedicated partner, and sometimes tolerate things that annoy the hell out of us, all for the name of love. But, do we demonstrate the same level of tolerance and love to ourselves. What does it mean exactly to love ourselves?

Well, let me count the ways.

It is quite easy for us to demonstrate loves opposite to ourselves; in the form of criticism, abuse, judgement, anger, unkindness and abuse. If we experienced neglect and abuse as a child, loving ourselves is an alien concept. Recently I had a client, who was treated so harshly and cruelly by her mother as a child, that she was totally unable to love herself. Her shame was so prevalent that it directed her life, making it virtually impossible to trust other people, causing sugar binge eating, guilt and chronic low self-esteem. Initially Emelia came to see me for weight loss but as we worked together, it became more apparent that she was in desperate need of some self-love, having experienced a life of shame until now. Shame is the belief that we are unworthy of love and belonging – she had no sense of belonging, feeling disconnected from her family, not good enough with no-one truly on her side. I see many different clients, all with their unique and sometimes tragic stories, but Emelia’s childhood touched me deeply. For some reason Emelia’s mother singled her out from 6 other siblings, and basically treated her like a slave from the age of 4. It would be a tragedy if Emelia settled for a life based on her mother’s inability and capacity to demonstrate love.  Life doesn’t have to be so cruel indefinitely, does it?

It is never too late to start loving ourselves. How do we do that?

By treating ourselves with kindness, care and compassion; as we would a best friend. By actively finding ways to love and nurture ourselves, doing things that bring us joy and removing people from our lives who are abusive, cruel and judgemental. That also means keeping a watchful eye on our internal critic, that part of us that thrives on lies and negativity.  And decisively doing the deeper work of healing the past.

Emotional trauma is sometimes devastating, but it is not a life sentence and it can change with the right support. I’ve been helping my clients release emotional trauma for 10 years now, using proven methods such as Hypnotherapy, Inner Child, the Havening Technique and EMDR, offering relief to people after years of suffering. How we were treated in the past by other’s doesn’t get to determine how we love ourselves in the present. Yes, it has affected our level of self-esteem and worthiness, but we decide for how long and to what extent. Change is possible.

Actively seeking to love who we are feels infinitely more fulfilling than guilt, shame, depression and pain, and is well worth the journey of discovery. Staying stuck in a story created by unloving and cruel people from our past, is not a life, but merely an existence. Most of us have been to dark places and experienced heartache, we know what that quagmire feels like. But rather than stay stuck in the swamp, we can use those experiences for our advantage – that is to know experientially exactly what love is not.  So, when we make the choice to go within and heal, which is an act of self-love, we open the door to new possibilities and can begin to live in joy and peace. A life we truly deserve.

The relationship we have with ourselves, is the most important one we will ever have, make it a friendly, kind and loving one.  Now, how can you love you? Let’s just count the ways……